A&S Class of ’24: As an Undergrad, Isabella Lee Has Already Left Her Mark on the Field of Biochemistry

Isabella Lee

On May 17th, Isabella Lee will officially hold a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a specialization in biochemistry and a minor in Chinese literature and languages.

She initially started as a math major, but after taking classes in the sciences, Lee discovered that chemistry is what she really loved, along with the career paths that it offers her in health care.  Since her family is originally from China, Lee was also drawn to the study of the nation’s language and literature, so the opportunity to study them in the College’s Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures let her take a break from her studies in the sciences, and it helped her connect a little more deeply with her family’s culture and origins.

Among the growing number of undergraduates looking for hands-on research experience, Lee has worked with UVA chemist Rebecca Pompano, helping her advance her work on the science of immunity and biomaterials that can be used to mimic living tissue.  The experience has even given her the freedom to conduct research of her own, and it won both the University’s coveted Double Hoo award and her department’s Undergraduate Chemistry Award, both of which helped fund her research for several summers.

“I’ve really appreciated how immersive my undergraduate research experience has been and the opportunity I’ve had to lead an independent research project and to make a contribution – even if it was just a small one – to the larger world of academic research,” Lee said. “It’s been a really wonderful experience.”

In addition to her work in the lab, Lee has been a teaching assistant for an accelerated organic chemistry lab, helping students with their experiments and coursework, and she has worked as an EMT with the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad. 

Beginning her undergraduate experience during COVID made it more difficult for her to feel like she was joining a community at UVA, and Lee admits, the pre-med and pre-health experience at UVA can be competitive.  At first, Lee began to think she wasn’t cut out for it, but finding an opportunity to step outside of her academic pursuits as a volunteer EMT gave her a new perspective on her goals.

It also gave her an opportunity to interact with and serve the local community in a way that gave meaning to her efforts in the classroom.

“It reignited my interest in the field, and I found my home and my community there,” Lee said.

Lee plans to take a gap year or two before returning to graduate school, and in that time, she’ll pursue volunteer opportunities and decide on the direction she wants her career to take.

“No matter what career I go into, the opportunities I’ve had at UVA have been amazing, and I’m going to take away so much from them, and they’re going to be important to me no matter what field I choose,” Lee said.  “You have to find opportunities that are meaningful to you regardless of your career.”